Critics are denouncing recent congressional changes to the Posse
Comitatus Act that will allow a broader use of U.S. military forces in a
domestic law enforcement role including a new unit for deployment in
assisting civilian officers during a terrorist attack.
The new command, established Oct. 7 in Norfolk, Va., will be called
the U.S. Joint Forces Command, and replaces the former U.S. Atlantic
Command. At a ceremony commemorating the new unit, Defense Secretary
William Cohen told participants the American people shouldn’t fear the
potential of seeing U.S. military forces on the streets of U.S. cities.
The military must “deal with the threats we are most likely to face,”
Cohen told reporters, downplaying concerns about troops operating on
home soil. “The American people should not be concerned about it. They
should welcome it.”
The new command is designed to prepare U.S. troops to fight abroad or
to respond if terrorists strike with nuclear, chemical or biological
In opposing the measure, critics cite the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act,
which prohibits federal troops from participating in domestic law
enforcement activities under most circumstances. With the concern over
domestic terrorism rising since the World Trade Center bombing and
numerous incidences of cyber-attacks on U.S. defense and financial
institutions, the Clinton administration has begun to relax some of
In July, WorldNetDaily reported the new measures
would end the requirement for local law agencies to reimburse the
federal government for any local use of military equipment, as well as
enable the Department of Defense to deploy military troops in cases of
anticipated or actual terrorist attacks.
Then, David Kopel of the Independence Institute warned that the measures would, if passed, “set (bad)
precedents for years to come.”
Since the Waco debacle in 1993, when federal law officers and
military personnel assaulted a church community resulting in the deaths
of over 80 men, women and children, Kopel said the federal government
has been “eroding the protections contained in the Posse Comitatus Act.”
In the past, he told WorldNetDaily, most of the amendments to the
original law had been based on bogus drug issues. Now, he said, that
issue seems to have shifted to so-called terrorist attacks, or at least
the threat of them.
The Defense Department has said only the military has enough
equipment to operate in a poisoned environment, or to manage a massive
decontamination effort. Secretary Cohen told reporters last week that
federal law will not be violated because the military would only respond
“It is subordinate to civilian control,” he said.
But Gregory Nojeim, legislative counsel for the American Civil
Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., told WorldNetDaily he is concerned
about “nightmare scenarios” like those in the recent films, “Enemy of
the State” and “The Siege.”
“Soldiers are not equipped, by training or temperament, to enforce
the laws with proper regard for civil and constitutional rights,” he
said. “They’re trained to kill the enemy.”
Nojeim said the ACLU is concerned about “letting loose the most
effective fighting force in the history of the world” on American
Cohen said that the creation of the Joint Forces Command would better
coordinate the training of the four armed services. However, history is
replete with reasons why some Americans continue to be hesitant about
using military troops in a law enforcement capacity.
Besides questions about the Army’s Delta Force role during the Waco
siege, most recently, in 1997, U.S. Marines assigned to assist the U.S.
Border Patrol in combating illegal immigration accidentally shot and
killed an 18-year-old goat herder. That force has since been withdrawn
and reassigned, but lawmakers have remained committed to expanding the
military’s civil law enforcement role in other ways.
For example, the military also has been given an expanded role in
defending against cyber-terrorism, or assaults on U.S. computer systems.
The U.S. Space Command in Colorado will be leading that effort.
Nojeim questioned the need for such an expansion of federal military
forces into the domestic law enforcement arena, even though U.S.
officials have said the nation is now at greater risk of terrorist
attack. He also believes the White House should do a better job of
educating the American people about why the changes to the Posse
Comitatus law are needed.
“For years the federal government has showered the FBI with hundreds
of millions of new dollars to help it combat crimes involving chemical
and biological weapons,” he told WorldNetDaily. “Taxpayers need to know
where that money has gone and why the president now wants to call in the
Addressing the long-term ramifications of the change in military law
enforcement policy, Nojeim said, “When the crisis hits, those with the
biggest guns will be subordinate to no one.”